Direct to Kindle Publishing

I have just finished a book Balancing the Budget is a Progressive Priority that is now available on Amazon and published via Kindle Direct Publishing. This book is different from anything I have ever done; I would call it a polemic that is based on evidence. This post is not about the arguments of the book, but about my decision to publish it via Kindle Direct Publishing (I will write about some of the themes of the book in coming days).

I am engaging in this publishing experiment due to the timeliness of the topic. I began writing this book about one year ago, and planned to be seeking a traditional publisher now, a process that I have begun. However, a quick turnaround of the book for an academic publisher would put it out next summer, if the book sailed through the review process. In late July, I decided that if this book was to have a chance of having an impact on the policy process, I had to publish it now given the creation of the super committee. I intend to seek a book contract for a fuller version that also comments on whatever the super committee actually does with an academic press as well, and only time will tell if I am successful in doing so.

I almost certainly would not have done this were I still an Assistant Professor who was still to be reviewed for tenure. However, I got tenure last year, so decided I would rather try and have my ideas have an impact and was therefore willing to risk getting less “academic credit.” Further, I am a professor in a School of Public Policy, and we claim to be interested in “policy engagement” so I decided to move ahead.

What about the practical details of publishing direct to Kindle? Austin asked me last night via twitter:

Let me put it this way: suppose I had a monograph, all text, no figs, in Word. What does it take to get it to Kindle?

The short answer is 72-96 hours, but with some caveats. Here is how it went for me. I decided to publish my book via Kindle Direct on July 25, 2011, and the heart of the text was mostly completed at that time (of course I tinkered with it). After the debt ceiling deal was reached, I wrote a prologue to the book and a concluding chapter that put the long run deficit problems in context with our short run economic problems and the upcoming work of the super committee. I put the text to bed on August 9, 2011 and the book (mistakenly) was published on August 12 (I meant for it to publish on August 15; you can set the date). One person stumbled onto it and purchased it that weekend.

My plan was to have the book live for the week of Aug 15-22 while I addressed some formatting issues; I thought of it like the soft opening for a restaurant. I had to submit three updates to the book during this period of time to fix formatting issues. Persons who buy the book get the updates for free, though there is evidence this works much easier with a Kindle device than it does with the free software that allows you to buy/read a Kindle e book on a PC (they also have it available on Android and iPad/iTouch platform).

I tweeted some about the book during the first week, but began to market the book on August 22, 2011 when I sent emails to approximately 100 persons who I thought would be interested: academics, persons working for think tanks, a few politicians, journalists, my Father, other bloggers, etc.

So, from completed word file to having a book out on Kindle is feasible in 72-96 hours if you have nothing but text. If you follow the pointers below you can likely avoid the formatting problems I had. Still, I would publish it and read over it to make sure the formatting is as you want it before you start pushing the book because the last step of publishing a book via Kindle Direct is totally black box (mobi.pocket Kindle’s proprietary software).

  • To publish a book to Kindle you must go from word file —> html —> Kindle’s proprietary software mobi.pocket, which is available for free download
  • There is a Kindle “previewer” on-line that shows you how the book will look once published; I had spacing problems that looked fine on the “previewer” but were messed up in the published online version; the problems were due to microsoft word spacing/html conversion issues. Especially troublesome were the fact that hard carriage returns for a new paragraph in word were lost in the html to mobi.pocket translation causing there to be no spacing between paragraphs.
  • The spacing between paragraphs issue was fixed by going to the Page Layout/Spacing/tab in word and setting the spacing before and after each paragraph.
  • Do not use the latest version of word. We had other formatting problems that did not resolve until I went from .docx to .doc file. Kindle’s guidance says you may have problems with .docx; first thing to do is save your word file to an older version of word.
  • Note that you have to use very basic formatting in Kindle; no bullets, special symbols and the like. You have to use indentation, capitalization and italics to highlight points so this means you need to pay attention to the Style used in word. We used Style/Simple though I am sure there are better ones. Because the document was written initially in chapter-specific word files that had different styles, this took some time. I would get the book into one word file sooner rather than later.
  • A quick look into the formatting of tables in Kindle made me decide to have none in the book, and instead to have a web page with supplementary materials. Stephen Cohen and Brad Delong did this (no references or tables in book; all on a website) even with a hard cover  book The End of Influence: What Happens When Other Countries Have the Money (New York: Basic Books: 9780465018765). This also gives me the flexibility to respond to comments/concerns about the book with more supplementary materials.
  • There are companies that specialize in conversion of books to Kindle that are listed in the Kindle Direct publishing materials and I talked with a few of them via email. I would not personally try to do a direct to Kindle book with tables and figures without hiring someone.
  • Bottom line: use older version of word, put the entire book into one file with consistent formatting, and do not depend upon hard carriage returns to set spacing between paragraphs and you can go from clean word file to Kindle book in less than a week, easily.
  • As of 11:20 am on August 23, 2011, the book is #1 in the Kindle e book store for nonfiction books focused on Social Security and #2 for those focused on Health Policy.  It is #10,499 in the Kindle store overall….so don’t get too excited; it has sold 33 units, which I assume means copies. So, I am encouraged but not quitting my job.
  • My colleague Khuwailah Beyah helped me greatly with this conversion, including usefully telling me to “shut up and go back to your office and stop worrying” a few times.

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